We can’t deny that the Harry Potter franchise both in books and in films has proven to be hard to beat. Originally a book aimed at children, it has become a whole universe full of magic, and fantasy, growing its own mythology.
But let me tell you that Harry Potter is not the first magical franchise in books and films, and it’s far from being the last. Stories with young protagonists in worlds where magic and fantasy are the rules are many, sadly not all had a great marketing campaign behind them.
So, whether you’re a Harry Potter fan looking for similar stories or you just love fantasy films full of magic and adventure, we’ve created this list.
I’ve chosen ten movies from all time that share similar features with Harry Potter; young protagonists, magic, fantasy, and adventure, and all of them have their roots in literature.
Grab your wand and popcorn, and get ready to enjoy the magic!
The Worst Witch (1986)
Comedy, Family, Fantasy – 70 min.
When I was around 13 years old, I stumbled upon this movie while I was zapping around. I immediately fell in love with the story, and I found Mildred Hubble such a relatable character.
The Worst Witch is a TV movie, and it’s the first one of several adaptations of the series of children’s books written and illustrated by Jill Murphy. The movie adapts the first book centring on Mildred Hubble, who is the worst witch at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches, a school of magic.
Mildred’s clumsiness led her to a lot of mishaps and misunderstandings. However, when Agatha, Miss Cackle’s evil twin sister, attempts to take over the school, Mildred manages to prevent it and becomes the academy’s hero.
The cast includes Diana Rigg, Charlotte Rae, Tim Curry, and Fairuza Balk.
You can find in The Worst Witch some of the Harry Potter lore that made the franchise so famous, such as a school of magic, cool uniforms, flying broomsticks, and a great Headmistress. The newest adaptation of The Worst Witch is a Netflix series that has already spawned four seasons.
The Percy Jackson Series (2010-2013)
Adventure, Family, Fantasy
In 2010, the first instalment in the Percy Jackson series was released in cinemas: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. And then, in 2013, the second film, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, came to theatres.
Although the second film left the door open for a third movie, it never happened.
The movies are based on the novel series of the same name by Rick Riordan, and it’s centred on the demigod Percy Jackon who is Poseidon’s son. Percy assists at Camp Half-Blood, a training camp for demigods, the half-human children of Greek gods.
Percy is accused of stealing Zeus’ lightning bolt while his mom is kidnapped by Hades. Now he and his friends must rescue his mom from Hades and prove he’s innocent. In Sea of Monsters, Percy finds out he has a half-brother, Tyson, who is cyclops.
Percy and his friends embark on a journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece to save the tree that contains the spirit of Thalia Grace, Zeus’ daughter.
Percy is played by Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and he’s supported by a cast including Alexandra Daddario, Kevin McKidd, Steve Coogan, Sean Bean, Rosario Dawson, Brandon T. Jackson, Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener, among others.
Disney is producing a series based on the novels that will be released in 2024 on Disney+.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Adventure, Drama, Family – 127 min.
I’m not going to lie, what drew me to see Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children at the cinema was Tim Burton’s direction and Eva Green’s beauty.
What I’ve found after seeing it was an amazing journey that combines something like X-Men meets Harry Potter with Burton’s imagination. Of course, I ended up reading the books written by American author Ransom Riggs on which the movie is based.
The story follows Jake who grew up listening to fantastic stories from his grandpa Abe about battling monsters and growing up at “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” at Cairnholm.
The home children are in charge of Miss Alma Peregrine who has paranormal abilities as the children under her take, known as the Peculiars. After Abe’s death, Jake travels to Cairnholm and finds out the secret behind Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children.
The cast is led by Eva Green (Penny Dreadful) as Miss Peregrine, Asa Butterfield (Hugo, Ender’s Game) as Jake, Samuel L Jackson as Barron, Dame Judi Dench as Miss Avocet, and Rupert Everett as the Ornithologist.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)
Comedy, Family, Fantasy – 105 min.
This film was directed by Eli Roth, you probably know him by his role as Donny Donowitz in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, however, he’s more famous for directing Cabin Fever, Hostel, and Hostel II.
Based on the 1973 novel of the same name written by American author John Bellairs, the film follows Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), a young boy who recently lost his parents and is sent to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in an old and creepy house.
Now Lewis must help his magical uncle to find a clock hidden in the house that can bring the end of the world. In this quest, Jonathan’s neighbour, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), joins them to help them.
If you enjoy stories led by orphan children and magical people trying to save the world from mysterious forces, then you’re going to enjoy The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
Ben Kenigsberg from the New York Times gives a good example of what you can expect: “The movie has the pleasingly demented texture of early Tim Burton. It bears the logo of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin company and is seen from a Spielbergian child’s-eye view.”
Comedy, Family, Fantasy – 98 min.
Matilda has become a classic children’s movie as the book of the same name by Roald Dahl in which it is based on. Co-produced and directed by Danny DeVito, who also stars as Matilda’s father and serves as the narrator, the film follows the titular character.
Matilda (Mara Wilson) is a prodigy child with psychokinetic abilities that she is learning to control to defend herself from her abusive family and Miss Trunchbull, the principal of Crunchem Hall Elementary School, who is a tyrannical, abusive, and cruel woman.
Along with Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito, the supporting cast is composed of Rhea Perlman and Embeth Davidtz.
Matilda is a timeless tale about being different and gathering the strength to fight, even if this means going against your family and the adult oppressive world.
I remember seeing this film at the movies when it was released, and although I wasn’t a child anymore, I enjoyed it as a whole.
After all, Roger Ebert said it better: “Matilda” is not in any sense a “children’s movie,” although older children will probably like it a lot. It is a dark family comedy about stupid parents, cruel teachers and a brave little girl, and it is no surprise to find that Danny DeVito not only stars but directed it.
The Chronicles of Narnia Trilogy (2005-2010)
Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Here comes one of my favourite sagas both in films and books. Sadly, only 3 out of the 7 novels were adapted to the big screen.
With Walden Media, the production company, losing the rights to the books, any kind of continuation to this trilogy won’t ever see the light. However, the films, just like the books, are self-contained at some point, and if the movies make you read the source, it’s a win-win.
The Chronicles of Narnia is made up of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The films adapt the three first books in the order they were originally published and not in the chronological reading order.
The story follows the Pevensie siblings who enter Narnia through an old wardrobe. There, they must fight Queen Jadis (Tilda Swinton), also known as the White Witch, the ruler of Narnia and give back the throne to Aslan (Liam Neeson), a talking lion, who is the true king.
Narnia can be defined as Lord of the Rings for children, but also it has many of the things that made Harry Potter popular: children living amazing adventures full of magic and fantasy.
Adventure, Family, Fantasy – 127 min.
Stardust is based on Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name, and it was directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Kingsman).
The film has an ensemble cast consisting of Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Jason Flemyng, Rupert Everett, Peter O’Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert De Niro, and is narrated by Ian McKellen.
The story is set in the fictional town of Wall, which is a borderline town to the magical fantasy kingdom of Stormhold. Tristan, a young man from Wall promises to his beloved Victoria a falling star, and he goes to Stormhold to pick the one he saw falling.
To his surprise, the star is a woman, and now all witches, wizards, and princes from Stormhold are after her. So, if you like the combination of witches, princes, pirates, and a falling star looking like an angelical young woman, then you can’t miss Stardust.
As Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly said: “It’s the closest the movies have come in a while to the nudgy, knowing fairy-tale enchantment of The Princess Bride.”
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
Drama, Family, Fantasy – 96 min.
First of all, if you’re going to watch this movie, please make sure to keep a box of tissues by your side. Bridge to Terabithia is based on the novel of the same name by American writer Katherine Paterson.
The book has been the target of censorship many times and currently ranks at number 8 on the American Library Association list of most commonly challenged books in the United States for 1990–1999. Some events from the novel are inspired by what Paterson’s son, David, went through when he was eight.
David Paterson, a screenwriter himself, adapted the novel to this 2007 film, he also served as producer. Bridge to Terabithia tells the story of Jesse (Josh Hutcherson – The Hunger Games), an 11-year-old boy who dreams of being an artist.
Jesse befriends Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), a girl of his same age who is his next-door neighbour. Both of them create a fantasy world they name Terabithia and spend time together in an old treehouse in the nearby woods.
The movie was co-produced by Walden Media and The Walt Disney Company, and Gabor Csupo, mainly known for working in the animation world as the producer of The Simpsons’ early seasons and Rugrats.
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Adventure, Drama, Family – 102 min.
The NeverEnding Story is not only the oldest movie on this list but also a classic of its own. Based on the novel of the same name by German author Michael Ende, the story has everything you’ll love to find in a fantasy and magical tale.
The film was directed by Wolfgang Petersen, and it was his first English-language film. The story follows Bastian Bux, a ten-year-old boy, an outcast who loves books and is the target of bullies at school.
One day, he discovers a mysterious book called The NeverEnding Story. The story portrays the world of Fantasia that is being devoured by an evil force known as “The Nothing”.
The Child Empress, the Fantasia ruler, is sick, and the young warrior Atreyu has the mission to find a cure, and stop The Nothing to keep growing. Bastian soon finds that the book is not a regular book, and he will be part of the story too.
The film only covers the first half of the book, and a sequel that was released in 1990, with different actors and directors, loosely adapted the second half. A forgettable third movie was released in 1994 with an original plot that has nothing to do with the book.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)
Action, Adventure, Family – 109 min.
The origin of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is in a poem written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1797. The poem inspired a symphonic poem composed by the French composer Paul Dukas in 1897.
This concert piece had a boost of popularity in 1940 when Walt Disney included it in his film Fantasia, a movie composed of eight animated segments in which classical music plays the main role.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice short starring Mickey Mouse as the titular character with the iconic sequence of the walking broomstick carrying buckets with water is still an animation classic.
In 2010, Disney released The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, a live-action movie directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) and starring Nicolas Cage (National Treasure, Ghost Rider), Jay Baruchel (How to Train Your Dragon), and Alfred Molina (Spider-Man 2).
The story is set in modern-day New York and follows Balthazar Blake (Cage), a Merlinean sorcerer busy fighting the dark forces and his nemesis Maxim Horvath (Molina).
He’s also searching for The Prime Merlinean, the person who is going to inherit Merlin’s powers. This chosen one happens to be Dave Stutler (Baruchel), a physics student who ends up being Blake’s apprentice.